December 18, 2014

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Medical marijuana ballot initiative short on signatures

John Pardee of the Ohio Rights Group discusses efforts to get a medical marijuana issue on the November ballot. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

John Pardee, president of the Ohio Rights Group, discusses efforts to get a medical marijuana issue on the November ballot. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

AMHERST — Medical marijuana won’t make the November ballot this year.

The Ohio Rights Group, the organization behind the drive to put a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana and industrial hemp before voters in the fall, wasn’t able to gather the necessary signatures before today’s deadline, said John Pardee, the group’s president.

Pardee, who lives in Amherst, said volunteers got between 120,000 and 130,000 registered voters to sign the petition, far short of the required 385,247 signatures from 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties.

But Pardee said the signature gathering efforts weren’t in vain. Valid signatures can be used in the future.

Matt McClellan, spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, said theoretically the signatures never expire, but the longer they linger, the better chance they would become invalid. For instance, if a registered voter moves between when he signed and when the signatures are turned in, that person would have to sign a second time using his new address.

Pardee said he estimates the Ohio Rights Group ultimately will need to get between 450,000 and 500,000 voters to sign to have enough valid signatures to get the amendment placed on the ballot.

He said he’s hopeful that enough signatures can be gathered in time to get the measure before voters in November 2015.

Lorain County Commissioner Ted Kalo, a Democrat who’s been working on the effort to legalize medical marijuana, said if not next year then 2016 is a possibility as well.

But Pardee said he’s not sure the Ohio Rights Group would have the funding to get its message out effectively two years from now.

“Trying to mount a campaign in a presidential year in a battleground state is going to be cost prohibitive,” he said.

Both Kalo and Pardee said that despite falling short this year, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. The problem, they said, is that they weren’t able to generate the interest in those who have backed marijuana legalization pushes elsewhere in the country.

“We have a real shot of being viable in 2015 if we continue our momentum and start attracting some benefactors,” Pardee said.

He said it’s virtually impossible to gather the requisite number of signatures in Ohio without hiring a company to make a concerted effort to do so.

Pardee also said he’s hopeful that the Ohio legislature will take steps toward legalization. He called doing away with the prohibition on industrial hemp “a no-brainer” and has had some encouraging discussions regarding a possible medical marijuana initiative coming out of Columbus.

But he also said he’s not looking for the highly restrictive medical marijuana measures some states have experimented with. If the legislature does approve a medical marijuana program, he said it needs to be structured in such a way that those who need the medication will have access to it.

Pardee’s son, Jason, turned to medical marijuana following a near-fatal 2008 car crash in Florida in which his pelvis was broken. The younger Pardee, who now grows marijuana in California, described himself previously as a “medical refugee.”

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @BradDickenCT.